My day at the fair
I have to be honest right up front: I have never been a big fan of the Iowa State Fair. But I figure if I’m going to blog about things to do in Iowa, I can’t ignore THE biggest thing that happens in the state aside from the caucuses.
I spent the day at the fair Friday, and I have to say that although I found some things to like about the event I’m still not a big fan. I guess I’m more of an observer than a participant.
Here’s my day:
- 10 a.m. Arrive at the fair. Buy a Dutch letter from the vendor from Pella. Dutch letter does not taste like it came from Pella. $3.00.
- Visit the Agriculture Building. Get in a long line that appears to be for the butter cow but is, in reality, a line for free food.
- Eat a hard-boiled egg on a stick, courtesy of the Iowa Egg Council.
- Find the actual butter cow line, which is also hellaciously long. Chat with a woman about my age about all things state fair. View the butter cow and sculpture of Norma “Duffy” Lyon at age 10, sculpted by current butter cow creator Sarah Pratt. In my opinion, Duffy’s sculptures were far superior. The butter cow turned 100 this year, so the fair’s thematic graphics were devoted to the cow’s buttery likeness. (I enjoy this.)
- Watch the judging of the giant pumpkins.
- Visit the Cultural Center and very much enjoy the photography, drawing, and painting competition. Some of this stuff is as good as you’d see in a gallery or museum, but without the fancy displays. It’s honest and approachable.
- Hike all the way to the far northeast edge of the fairgrounds to visit the poultry and rabbit barn only to discover that the vast majority of the poultry and rabbit people have not yet checked in. There are no rabbits at all, and there are only a few chickens. But I like them. They are very cool.
- 12:05: Ready for something to eat. I don’t get into the whole deep-fat-fried-crap-on–a-stick style of food they serve at the fair. But I do like ice cream. So I opt for a peppermint bar from Bauder’s. I like that Bauder’s is a local business. I like that the peppermint bar is made by hand and wrapped in red-and-white-checkered paper. I LOVE how the peppermint bar tastes. I will inadvertently wear chocolate on my face for the next two hours. $5.00.
- It’s starting to get crowded now, and it’s sunny. The weather forecast said we’d have thunderstorms. I’m glad it was wrong.
- 1:15. I’m thirsty so I buy a fresh lemonade with real lemons. At $3.50, it seems awfully small, but it tastes great.
- Listen to a trio of Iowa 10-year-olds sing show tunes at the Bill Riley stage.
- Walk into the shopping area inside the Grandstand. It’s filled with “as seen on TV” items like miracle mops. I leave after about 30 seconds.
- Lured into the Iowa Craft Beer tent. Tickets for 3 small or 1 large beer are $7.00. This seems like money well spent. The beer tent offers selections from a number of Iowa breweries including Peace Tree, Olde Main, and Mill Stream.
- Stroll through Walnut Center Crafts building. Lasted more than 30 seconds, but not a lot.
- Walk through the Midway. It’s ok, as Midways go.
- Try to ignore the yapping politicians and the media drooling all over them, but it’s not easy. There’s Jared Blankenship, a farmer and former teacher from Texas, who I’ve never heard of. Then there’s Debbie Wasseman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. And then Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker. All are on the Des Moines Register’s State Fair Soapbox. Which is actually more like a hay bale.
- Buy some saltwater taffy. Eight pieces for $2.00.
- Walk briefly through the horse barn. Consider visiting cattle barn and swine barn, but then I come to my senses.
- Watch kids (and adults) slide down the Giant Slide.
- Enjoy the vintage car display.
- Work in the Iowa State Fair booth, rolling football posters for fans and others eager to pick up anything free in the Varied Industries Building. It’s a cool booth, and it’s air-conditioned.
- Take a break for dinner. Here are a few of my choices: red velvet funnel cake with cream-cheese frosting, pb&j on a stick, fried butter on a stick, chocolate-covered fried ice cream, pork chop on a stick, hot beef sundae, cotton candy, chicken strips, deep fried Twinkie on a stick, walking taco, gyro, giant half-pound tenderloin, Philly steak sandwich, jumbo burger, pulled pork Bar-B-Q, tater ribbon fries, corn dog. I briefly consider eating a caramel apple but opt for cheese curds. This is a mistake. They are deep-fried and very greasy. I should have had a strawberry smoothie and called it dinner. Cheese curds: $5.50. Enormous lemonade to wash them down: $5.00.
- 9 p.m. Shift ends. I consider going to The Nadas’ free concert. It’s too late for the Youth Spelling Bee, the Fiddler’s contest, and the Household Pet Cat show. It appears that the entire east side of Des Moines is on the Grand Concourse.
- I fight my way to my car and go home, still not convinced that the state fair is the place for me.
I have to say that the Iowa State Fair is very well-organized. The marketing and communications are very well done, and I love this year’s theme. The fairgrounds are clean, with lots of restroom facilities and plenty of places to sit and people-watch. There is also a fair amount of shade, information resources, first aid stations, and the like. My hat is off to the organizers, because this is a huge undertaking and it seems to go off without a hitch.